Airstream Renovation: Interior Demolition

It’s empty! Look! Look at its empty beauty!

That’s essentially what this post boils down to, but, if you want to hear more about the process of getting to this point, read on. Or you can check out what she looked like before.

We started demolishing over spring break, beginning with the kitchen cabinets. A singular cabinet took most of the day because as Spencer likes to say, “There were screws on top of rivets on top of screws.” That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Every time we thought we’d gotten an item disconnected, there was something else holding it together. The kitchen and bathroom were the worst.

At one point, Spencer was so frustrated by the kitchen cabinetry he decided that ripping it from the floor was the best course of action. And it was. We frequently had to yank screws out of the rotted floor because they spun uselessly.

The best part of the demolition was working together and using our respective talents. While Spencer was ripping things apart, I squeezed into small spaces like under the sink or into the end table.

Once we started demolishing, I didn’t want to stop. I spent a large portion of my spring break and recent weekends working on my own. I tacked several projects that were relatively easy. This included the rear twin beds, closet, and curbside upper cabinet.

Over the next few weeks, we removed all the interior furniture, walls, etc. Currently, most of the systems (electrical, sewer, etc.) are still intact. These will be coming out next along with the inner skins and subfloor.

As expected, we discovered a few problems while demolishing.

Throughout the demolition, one thing was consistent: mice. We found a lot of droppings and a lot of dead mice. Eight to be exact and we haven’t even opened up the walls yet. The previous owners clearly knew about their mouse problem. (I found a mouse in a trap.) I got used to dead mice last summer though, so my least favorite thing about the mice situation was the carpet. The forty year old discolored shag carpet covered in mouse poop…yuck. I disinfected the shit out of that.

If you’re ever in a similar situation, I just want to remind everyone to wear masks and gloves when dealing with mouse remains. You want to disinfect the area thoroughly before cleaning it. This is because mice carry Hantavirus, which has no treatment and a 38% fatality rate. I learned about the potential dangers of this disease and proper procedures as Curatorial Staff at a historic house museum last summer. None of the dead mice were very fresh and the disease doesn’t have a long life, so Spencer and I were probably safe. I’d rather be cautious though. We want to live in this Airstream, not die because of it.

Also, we discovered some soft and rotted spots in the floor. The worst spot was under one of the rear twin beds. The previous owners clearly knew about it because there was a piece of plywood screwed over the location. After examining the Airstream during a storm, Spencer and I suspect the leak is over the nearby window. While we were sad to discover this hole, we were already planning to replace the subfloor to take a look at the frame, replace the insulation, and replace a few systems.

For example, we want to replace the city water connection because it is currently located at the back of the trailer. You can see the copper pipe in the bottom of the photo below. This isn’t the best spot for it since nothing in the rear of the trailer needs water, plus it creates the potential for substantial leaks along the line. We suspect it wasn’t moved during the first few years Airstreams came with side baths. After all, that setup makes a lot more sense for a rear bath. Either way, we intend to optimize that system along with a few others, particularly those that can be improved with new technology. The current inverter makes a horrible humming.

And, as you can see in the first photo, the space behind the refrigerator is already pretty gross, but, when I looked up into the refrigerator vent, I found more evidence of creatures who previously lived in our trailer. I suspect the heat from the fridge encouraged both the mold and the wasps to move in. This isn’t really a problem because there aren’t any live wasps. I just have to clean out the nests.

So that’s a look at our diamond in the rough. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m counting the days until I’m done with my school semester and I can get elbow deep in this project. Only two more, in case you were wondering.

Our Airstream Vacation

For my birthday last summer, my mother gave us a gift certificate for a stay at an Airstream hotel. She hoped we’d get some inspiration for our own renovation and, boy, did we!

While this post is not intended as a review of AutoCamp, Spencer and I enjoyed our stay, especially since it was his first vacation in a year and a half. The AutoCamp staff and accommodations were nice and there were plenty of activities nearby. We went wine tasting, ate some great food, and gallivanted up and down the coast.

It was also Spencer’s first time (in memory) visiting the Pacific Ocean so the power of the water surprised and entertained him. An unexpectedly large wave broke on a rock near us and got us rather wet. At which point, Spencer was no longer amused by the beach, but the discovery of the rusty remains of something mechanical made him happy again.

Later we asked a park employee about it and researched the model number. It was a steam shovel used to transport rock debris onto the beach to build a jetty. We also discovered rusted tracks buried in the beach, which were part of the same operation.

While wine tasting, we learned a lot and actually came home with a bottle we both like. All around, it was a great (albeit short) vacation.

 

Autocamp’s airstreams

AutoCamp tested my ability to identify Airstream models. For those familiar with Airstreams, can you figure out what’s unusual about this photograph?

The windows of course! Airstreams always have a wraparound window above the hitch. In contrast, AutoCamp’s Airstreams have the front window in the rear and the rear window in the front, plus a window configuration and layout I’ve never seen before, a 70s style, a 90s wide shape, and modern technology. I was so confused. These Airstreams didn’t fit any of the decades I knew.

So, we asked the front desk. Turns out, the Airstream factory in Ohio actually custom built them for Autocamp’s Russian River location. They were designed specifically to be hotel rooms and so they have an unusual layout with a front bathroom and rear bedroom, plus other special features like keycode entry.

Despite having plenty of fun, we were there to evaluate the functionality of an Airstream for full timing. We both liked and disliked things about the AutoCamp design.

what we liked

To begin with, we both liked how bright the space was. The bedroom was especially bright since there were four vista view windows plus a skylight. The white walls and opaque glass bedroom door helped reflect and distribute the light. The bathroom and bedroom were both spacious, which was nice; however, these two rooms took up about half of the trailer. So, while nice in a hotel room, this layout would be impractical in our trailer. Spencer appreciated the location and number of outlets. I liked the individual reading lights and nightstands next to the bed. I also liked the bathroom mirror, vintage light switches, and the small auxiliary heater in the bedroom, which was great for nighttime.

The best thing about staying at AutoCamp was the experience of sleeping in an Airstream. We’re currently debating bedroom layouts. AutoCamp’s layout takes up more space, but it allows us to access both sides of the bed, which is great if our sleep schedules differ. It also allows us to have individual nightstands and lights, plus access to more drawers under the bed. With our space restrictions though, we might need to sacrifice these things for a more compact bedroom. I’m leaning towards the first option, but what do you guys think?

There are one or two things I’m definitely stealing from the AutoCamp Airstreams. First of all, I absolutely adored the blinds. If you’ve seen our Airstream tour, you’re aware we dislike Nellie’s current blinds. Sure, they’re ugly, but they also don’t function properly. The autolock mechanism hates me and the blinds refuse to roll back up. In all Airstreams, the curved walls make curtains or blinds difficult because they swing away from the wall without a secondary attachment.

The blinds used in new Airstreams are OceanAir brand, which do not have a locking mechanism. Instead, the curtain pull slides into a holder at the bottom of the window. If you want the blinds partially open, they can tuck under the window levers or additional posts. I thought they were absolutely brilliant. The design is simple with a minimal profile and solves the issue with the curved walls. Plus they’re blackout shades, which is always a good thing.

Another thing I thought was particularly brilliant was the bathroom window treatment. The opaque glass eliminated the need for blinds while preserving privacy. Since Spencer and I are already intending to restore Nellie‘s windows, we can easily add opaque window tint on our bathroom window.

 

What We Disliked

There were a few parts of the Autocamp design we won’t be replicating though, which was just (if not more) useful to learn.

Spencer didn’t like the available seating space in their Airstream design. There was a couch in the living area which was useful for putting on shoes in the morning. However, Spencer wished there was a desk or coffee table for his computer. He also didn’t like the gaps above both the bedroom and bathroom doors. While these gaps allowed air to reach both rooms with the door closed, Spencer felt it wasn’t private enough if there were visitors. For the same reason, he also found fault with the bathroom door because it couldn’t lock.

I, personally, didn’t like the bedroom door and cabinet kerfuffle. Since the swinging door blocked the cabinetry, I had to move it each time I needed to get into the closet or the fridge. A sliding door (which the bathroom used) would be better. We would also prefer a quieter air conditioning/heating unit, but I’m not sure if that’s possible.

 

Again, none of these items are criticisms of AutoCamp. We loved our stay and will likely return to either their Santa Barbara or Russian River location. It was a great research opportunity as well as a nice vacation.